What would a roster based on dollar signs look like? Anthony Holzman-Escareno presents his 2020 NFL All-Paid Team:
The 2020 NFL All-Paid Team is a collection of the highest-paid players in the league at each position. It's essentially an All-Pro team, but the pocketbook supersedes pedigree and production for the day.
Average per year (APY) is the most accepted measure of comparison for player contracts, so it's what will be used for our purposes. Also, players who received the franchise tag are ineligible, due to the fixed nature of their salaries.
If you need help understanding any of the terms in this article, please refer to our Free Agency and Contract Glossary.
Before we get into the offense, defense and special teams, let's break down the numbers:
Total seasons: 105
Total combined value: $1.805 billion
Average per year: $17.2 million
Total full guarantees: $791.55 million
Total combined 2020 APY: $412.67 million
Total combined 2020 cap hit: $335.03 million
Total combined 2020 cash: $389.1 million
Russell Wilson makes a lot of chicken salad in Seattle. Until the next wave of quarterback contracts hit the market (looking at you, Dak and Pat), Wilson is, deservedly, the highest-paid player at the position. The Seahawks QB will earn $53 million in cash this season, due in large part to a $35 million salary bonus deferment.
Wilson has led the Seahawks to 10-plus wins in seven of his eight pro seasons, the most to start a career in NFL history. He's thrown 20 or more passing touchdowns in all eight of those campaigns, a feat only matched by Dan Marino and Peyton Manning.
Wilson is also at the peak of his brilliance. The NFL's best off-script player led a league-high five game-winning drives in 2019, while throwing 31 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. Prior to Wilson, Tom Brady (2010), Aaron Rodgers (2014) and Drew Brees (2018) are the only players to put together a season with 30-plus pass touchdowns and five or fewer interceptions in NFL history.
To describe Christian McCaffrey in one word: versatility. In one statistic? He is the only player in NFL history with 2,500-plus rushing and receiving yards in his first three seasons.
However, when it comes to numbers, the ways to cut it are limitless for Run CMC. In 2019, he became the third player in NFL history with 1,000-plus rushing and receiving yards in a single season, while finishing with the third-most single-season scrimmage yards in NFL history (2,392).
Not only does he have the first- and second-most receptions by a running back in a single season in NFL history, but only All-World wide receivers Michael Thomas (378) and DeAndre Hopkins (315) have more receptions than McCaffrey (303) since he was drafted eighth overall in 2017. McCaffrey does more than catch passes and make people miss, though. He tied for the NFL lead with 10 rushing touchdowns inside the tackles, per Next Gen Stats.
McCaffrey is now slated to be in Carolina through the 2025 season. Players at his position, like 2017 draftmate Alvin Kamara, are understandably encouraged by the move in the running back market.
Jones is the only player in NFL history to average more than 90 receiving yards per game. The 2019 campaign marked Jones' sixth-straight season with 1,300-plus receiving yards. With another, Jones would tie Jerry Rice for the most such seasons all-time.
The Falcons sold the farm to move up to No. 6 overall to select Jones in the 2011 NFL Draft. It's very possible they didn't give up enough. Since arriving in Atlanta, Jones has been as automatic as his money: $64 million of his $66 million extension is fully guaranteed at signing. These full guarantees are the most in any current wide receiver contract.
Since joining the Cowboys in Week 9 of the 2018 season, Amari Cooper ranks fifth in receiving yards (1,914) and is tied for the NFL lead in receiving touchdowns (14). The Miami, Florida, native has made himself at home in Dallas, averaging 109.2 receiving yards per game in AT&T Stadium, the most by any player in any stadium since the 1970 NFL merger (min. 10 games).
Cooper's greatest value remains his impact on quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott averages 1.1 more yards per pass attempt and has a passer rating almost 10 points higher with Cooper on the field since 2018. Prescott recorded a league-high 133.5 passer rating when targeting Cooper on deep passes last season, per Next Gen Stats (min. 15 targets of 20-plus air yards).
Cooper hauled in a $100 million deal in March to remain with the team that traded a first-round pick to acquire his services. It's the first $100 million deal for a wide receiver since Larry Fitzgerald (2011) and Calvin Johnson (2012) hit the mark on seven-year agreements. Cooper's contract is as simple as simple gets: He makes $20 million in cash in each of its five seasons.
Michael Thomas has been ballin' in the Bayou since Day 1. No player has had more success faster at the receiver position: He's pulled in the most receptions (470) and receiving yards (5,512) in a player's first four seasons in NFL history. As far-fetched as this next fact seems, it's true: Thomas needs just 12 receptions next season to set the NFL record for the most receptions in a player's first five seasons (481, Jarvis Landry).
The Saints signed Thomas to his extension prior to the 2019 season and received immediate returns on their investment. Just months after cashing in, Thomas caught more passes (149) in a single season than any player in NFL history (he also led the league in receptions for the second straight year).
His $7 million cap hit in 2020 allowed the Saints more roster flexibility this season, but that number rises to $18.8 million in 2021 and $20 million-plus in each of the next three years.
The tight end market has been soft for some time. Prior to Austin Hooper's deal with the Browns, Jimmy Graham had been the NFL's highest-paid tight end since 2014, on three different teams for that matter. Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz both signed extensions in 2016, prior to establishing themselves as elite players at the position. This will all change soon when George Kittle eventually signs an extension with the 49ers.
Hooper received the most fully guaranteed money ($18.5 million) of any active veteran tight end contract when he signed with Cleveland -- the benefit of being the lone quality tight end on the market. In 2019, he ranked in the top six at his position in receptions (75), receiving yards (787) and receiving touchdowns (6) and graded out as a top-10 TE by PFF. Adding Hooper to an already talented Browns skill-position group should only help Baker Mayfield get out of his sophomore slump.
The Texans committed to Laremy Tunsil as their left tackle of the future when they sent two first-round picks and a second-round pick to the Dolphins in the deal to acquire him in August 2019. Tunsil then took the top off the offensive line market when he signed his new extension during the 2020 NFL Draft.
His $22 million APY is $4 million more than the next highest-paid player at the position (Eagles RT Lane Johnson). Tunsil also set new marks for guarantees ($57.9 million) and full guarantees ($40 million) among offensive linemen.
Tunsil had an 89.0 pass-blocking grade from PFF in 2019, the third-highest among all offensive tackles. Tunsil is due to become a free agent in 2024 at 30 years old, which should put him in line to sign another lucrative contract while still on the backend of his prime.
The Jaguars made 2017 first-team All-Pro Andrew Norwell the NFL's highest-paid left guard in 2018. Since putting pen to paper, Norwell has been PFF's 30th-ranked player at the position. Although all of Norwell's $30 million in full guarantees were in the first two seasons, the Jaguars decided to keep Norwell for 2020. The team did, however, restructure his contract in April, reducing his base salary from $11.5 million to $9 million, converting the difference into incentives.
NOTE: Joe Thuney will earn $14.8 million with New England in 2020 on the non-exclusive franchise tag.
Derek Carr surely appreciates the Raiders appropriately compensating Rodney Hudson, who had the highest PFF pass protection grade (91.2) among all centers last season. On his second multi-year extension, Hudson has made the Pro Bowl in three of his last four seasons. The Raiders restructured Hudson's contract in March, converting $11.6 million of his 2020 base salary into a signing bonus and adding two additional seasons to the contract to maximize proration over five years. The restructure cleared $9.28 million in cap space for Las Vegas in 2020.
Brandon Brooks suffered a serious injury after Christmas for the second straight year, though we've seen him bounce back with vigor before. Coming off a torn Achilles suffered in the 2018 Divisional Round, Brooks earned the highest overall grade (92.9) by an offensive lineman in 2019, per PFF. His $4.9 million in fully guaranteed money was disproportionate to the contract he signed. He earned an $8.4 million option bonus this March, which also added an extra season to his contract (2024).
NOTE: Brandon Scherff will earn $15 million with Washington in 2020 on the non-exclusive franchise tag.
Another highly decorated offensive lineman on the All-Paid Team, Lane Johnson earned his third Pro Bowl nod in 2019. Much like his offensive line neighbor Brooks, Johnson did his best work in the run game last season: His 92.6 run block grade by PFF led all offensive linemen. The right side was once seen as the lesser of the two tackle positions, but Johnson nonetheless became the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman in 2019 (his APY now ranks second to Laremy Tunsil's $22 million).
Is there a more dominant player in the NFL than Aaron Donald? No. And his paycheck corresponds with his dominance. Pick a season. 2016? '17? '18? '19? The NFL's first $20 million defender was PFF's highest-graded defensive player in each of them (min. 50 snaps). Recently retired Panthers LB Luke Kuechly barely edged out Donald for the spot in 2015.
Donald's been a Pro Bowler in each of his six seasons, a first-team All-Pro in five straight seasons and he's a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. It's almost absurd to think about his production from the interior defensive line, but here are some stats to highlight: Donald has 72 sacks since entering the NFL in 2014, second-most to only Chandler Jones (78.5). His 173 QB hits and 117 tackles for loss are the most in the league since then. Donald has done nothing but continue to wreak havoc on offenses since signing his extension in 2018.
After shipping the 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft to the 49ers to acquire Buckner, the Colts immediately signed the defensive lineman to an $84 million extension worth $21 million per season over four years. The 49ers moved Buckner, who was entering the last year of his contract, after deciding not to commit to keeping both him and impending free agent (and fellow Oregon alum) Arik Armstead long-term. So they signed Armstead at a lower APY ($17 million) and picked up a valuable draft asset for Buckner.
It may ultimately prove to have been a shrewd move, but the Niners' decision cost them one of the anchors to their NFC-winning defense. Buckner led the 49ers in sacks, QB hits and tackles for loss over his four seasons with the team. Since the start of his 2018 Pro Bowl campaign, Bucker has more sacks (19.5) than any interior defensive lineman not named Aaron Donald (33.0) or Chris Jones (24.5).
Matt Ryan still boasts the largest contract in the NFL in terms of total value ($150 million) despite signing the extension two years ago. The runner-up? Khalil Mack at $141 million. Soon after Aaron Donald set the record for a defensive player with a $135 million deal, Mack took the market to new heights. Just seven quarterbacks have more total guarantees ($90 million) than the three-time All-Pro. Only Jared Goff, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott (franchise tag) have a higher 2020 cap charge than Mack's $26.6 million.
By PFF metrics, Mack had one of the worst seasons of his remarkable career in 2019. He turned in his lowest pass rush grade since his rookie season in 2014 -- illustrated by the fewest sacks (8.5) and QB hits (14) since Year 1, as well as the lowest run defense grade of his career. And yet, Mack is one of just four players with 8-plus sacks in each of the last five seasons (Von Miller, Chandler Jones and Donald).
Coming off the first two double-digit-sack seasons and Pro Bowl nods of his career, Lawrence signed a five-year pact that gained him admittance to the $20-million-a-year club. In his first season under the deal (2019), Lawrence had his fewest sacks (5.0), tackles for loss (10) and quarterback hits (16) since his breakout 2017 season.
C.J. Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowler but never a first-team All-Pro, pushed the linebacker market up by $4.6 million per season ($17 million APY) in March 2019, surprising many around the league at the time, including his coach, Adam Gase. But order was restored just a few months later when the best player at the position, Bobby Wagner, signed a three-year extension worth $18 million per.
Wagner has the most tackles of any active player in the NFL (1,073), while he and Aaron Donald are the only players to earn first-team All-Pro honors in five of the last six seasons. There are just nine linebackers with more such selections than Wagner (5) in NFL history -- each is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Wagner's hefty dead cap impact in 2020 ($22 million) drops dramatically to just $7.5 million in 2021, meaning the Seahawks could soon get out of this deal should the linebacker experience any dramatic decline in skill ... not that we've seen any signs of that happening.
His contract set a new bar for off-the-ball linebackers in terms of both total guarantees ($51 million) and full guarantees ($43 million). It was Mosley's deal that set the precedent for Wagner's.
After making the Pro Bowl in four of his first five seasons with the Ravens, Mosley missed 14 games in Year 1 with Gang Green. However, Mosley did land a pick-six and a fumble recovery in limited action. A healthy Mosley should help boost a Jets team that had the seventh-best total defense in the NFL last season despite his absence.
Over the last three seasons, Slay leads the NFL with 56 passes defensed, is tied for second with 13 interceptions and has three Pro Bowl nods. At times, Slay appears to run better routes than the receivers he's mirroring.
Maybe more comforting for Eagles fans is Slay's play against a division rival: The eighth-year corner allowed just 3 receptions for 38 yards while mirroring Amari Cooper on 87.5 percent of his routes in a Week 11 matchup last season, per PFF. One of those receptions was this close to being an interception.
Byron Jones played safety for two of his first three seasons in the NFL. In 2018, he returned to his more familiar cornerback position and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. After playing out his fifth-year option in Dallas, the Dolphins offered Jones $82.5 million over five seasons to take his talents to South Beach.
The athletic wonder, who set a world record for the broad jump at the 2015 NFL Combine, has an 85.1 PFF coverage grade since making the transition back to the position in 2018, the seventh-highest among cornerbacks with at least 200 snaps.
The knock against Jones has always been his lack of ball production, which could be attributed to opponents staying away from him. He has just two career interceptions in five seasons and none in his last two. Despite their importance, takeaways aren't always the best measure of a cornerback's ability. Jones owns the fourth-highest forced incompletion percentage (18.9%) and the seventh-lowest completion percentage allowed (54.9%) of any player in the NFL since 2018, per PFF (min. 100 targets).
Howard is looking to bounce back in a big way after missing 11 games in 2019 to a knee injury. He and Jones each made their first Pro Bowl following the 2018 campaign, a season that saw the former lead the NFL with 7 interceptions in just 12 games (knee injury). Howard was arrested in December for a charge that has since been dropped, but it is unclear if the incident will lead to discipline entering the 2020 season.
BoJack, as he's known, regularly finds his name in the box score; he has 10 interceptions, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and five defensive touchdowns over his first three seasons. He's made two consecutive Pro Bowls and has a 93.4 PFF coverage grade over that span (second in the NFL, min. 25 snaps). His production took a slight dip this past season, as the Bears defense regressed as a whole, but Jackson remains one of the NFL's most adept coverage players on the backend.
Prior to Eddie Jackson's extension, Kevin Byard was the NFL's highest-paid safety. A Middle Tennessee State alum, Byard has started every game for the Titans since Week 10 of his rookie season in 2016. The defender broke out during the 2017 season, earning first-team All-Pro honors and leading the NFL with eight interceptions.
He's continued to excel since. Byard is the only player in the NFL with four or more interceptions in each of the last three seasons, and his 17 interceptions over that span are four more than any other player. He also leads all safeties with 33 passes defensed. Byard is more than a coverage safety; he's earned PFF's second-best run defense grade at his position over the same timeframe.
The reigning highest-paid punter in the NFL is back for his second run at the top of the pay scale after finishing among the top five in net punting average last season (43.1). The Saints have punted 103 times over the last two seasons, the third-fewest in the league.